How to Accelerate Muscle Recovery

Four Parts:Healing Injured MusclesCoping with Sore MusclesRelaxing Between WorkoutsEating to Rebuild Tissue

Whether you want to strengthen and build your muscles or heal injured muscles, using the right recovery technique is important. How you recover will vary depending on what you're recovering from. If you're sore from working out and trying to bulk up, recovery won't necessarily mean vegging out for three days in between workout sessions, but you may need some actual rest and recovery time to nurse injuries or sprains. Learning how to speed up the time it takes for your muscles to recover, no matter what you're recovering from, will help you maintain your strength and get back to the gym as quickly as possible.

Part 1
Healing Injured Muscles

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    Rest the injured muscle. If you've pulled, strained, or torn a muscle, you'll need to let it rest as much as possible. Try to avoid using that muscle if at all possible, or at the very least avoid engaging in the activity that led to your injury (running, lifting weights, etc.).[1]
    • Avoid strenuous physical activity as much as possible for the first 48 to 72 hours after sustaining the injury.[2]
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    Ice the injured muscle group. Icing an injury will help reduce swelling and inflammation by slowing the flow of blood to the site of the injury.[3] If you don't have ice or an ice pack, you can use a bag of frozen vegetables or other packaged food from the freezer.[4]
    • Ice therapy is most effective in the first 24 to 48 hours after you've sustained an injury.[5]
    • Do not apply ice or an ice pack directly to the skin, as this may cause a cold burn. Instead, try wrapping the ice or ice pack in a clean, damp towel.[6]
    • Apply the ice or ice pack for a maximum of 20 minutes at a time, then remove it for at least 10 minutes before reapplying.[7]
    • Repeat ice therapy for at least 20 minutes every hour, unless the ice becomes uncomfortable or painful to use on the injury.[8]
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    Minimize swelling with compression/elevation. After sufficiently icing the injury, it may be helpful to use compression therapy and elevation during rest. Compression therapy is as simple as wrapping an elastic bandage, like an Ace bandage, around the injury to reduce blood flow. This will help prevent swelling.[9] You can also elevate an injured limb to further reduce blood flow and prevent swelling. Simply prop the limb up on a pillow or two while sitting or reclining.[10]
    • Do not wrap the injury too tightly, or you may restrict too much blood flow to the limb.[11]
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    Manage pain with medicine. If your injury is causing you significant pain, you can take acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. These medications will help reduce inflammation and increase mobility while helping to manage the pain.[12]
    • Follow the dosing instructions on the label, or ask your doctor about how much of a given medication it is safe to take.
    • Aspirin should never be given to children or teenagers unless otherwise recommended by the child's pediatrician. Aspirin has been linked with a potentially-fatal condition in children/adolescents called Reye's syndrome that causes swelling of the liver and brain.[13]

Part 2
Coping with Sore Muscles

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    Stretch sore muscles. You probably know that you should stretch your muscles out before working out, but it can be easy to forget that you must also stretch out after a workout, or even the next day when soreness sets in. Stretching helps improve blood flow and remove any lactic acid/buildup that may cause soreness in your muscles the day after a workout.[14]
    • Extend the muscle group that is sore and hold the pose. This will increase blood flow to that muscle group, improving circulation and flexibility.
    • Hold each stretch for a minimum of 10 seconds. Start out with shallow stretches and gradually increase the deepness of the stretch on each repetition.
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    Incorporate a cool-down routine. Even seasoned athletes may feel that they can go from vigorously working out to hopping in the shower, but experts advise that a cool-down period should be an essential part of any workout. Simply add on a relatively brief (approximately 10 minute) period of easy aerobic activity, like jogging slowly or walking, then stretch out your muscles for a few minutes to further promote blood flow.[15]
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    Try heat therapy. Many experts recommend using heat therapy (like a heating pad, warming gel pack, or submersion in a hot bath) to treat sore muscles.[16] That's because heat, when applied to the skin, promotes blood flow to the sore muscles, which helps the muscle heal and rebuild.[17]
    • Do not apply heat to a muscle that is swollen or inflamed, as this will only increase the risk of continued swelling.[18]
    • Do not use heat therapy if you are diabetic or have poor circulation in your body.[19]
    • Do not lie down with a heat source, as you may fall asleep and burn yourself.[20]
    • Talk to your doctor about how often and how long to apply heat therapy, as your injury may dictate the specifics of this therapy option. Your doctor may also advise you to avoid heat therapy, depending on your medical history.
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    Get a massage. Massages are popular among professional athletes, and for good reason. A sports masseuse or another good massage therapist will be able to help your muscles heal more quickly by working deep into the tissue, reducing inflammation and promoting cellular healing.[21]
    • Search online to find a qualified masseuse in your area.
    • If you don't want to make an appointment with a masseuse, have your partner give you a massage, or give yourself one. Knead your arms and legs with firm, deep motions to promote blood flow and reduce tension.
    • Using a foam roller may also stimulate muscles in a similar manner as massage. Simply run the foam roller over your sore muscle groups for 30 - 60 seconds each and repeat throughout the day.
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    Go swimming. Swimming acts as another form of massage for your muscles, providing gentle resistance so your sore areas get a chance to stretch and move without getting more worn out. Swimming also helps keep your muscles moving during the sore period, promoting blood flow without causing additional inflammation or soreness.[22]
    • Don't do a full-blown swimming workout. Aim for 20 minutes or so of easy laps around the pool for a good sore muscle workout. Use strokes that work your sore muscle groups.

Part 3
Relaxing Between Workouts

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    Take regular breaks from working out. Allow your muscles enough time to recover from a strenuous workout, especially if you just started a fitness routine. Failing to take a well-needed rest for a day or two can result in muscle tears, which will make muscle recovery time even longer and may result in an ongoing injury.[23]
    • Short-term recovery is the break you take between sets of a workout.[24]
    • Training recovery is the break you take between gym or workout sessions.[25]
    • Some experts recommend giving sore muscles up to 48 hours to rest and relax during training recovery before you work that muscle group again.[26]
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    Get plenty of sleep. Getting proper sleep will help your muscles recover more quickly and put you in better shape next time you hit the gym. Aim to get 7-8 hours of sleep. Consistent sleep is made more possible when you go to bed around the same time each night and rise around the same time in the morning.
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    Relax in a bath/hot tub. Besides soothing the pain of sore muscles, getting into a hot tub or bath relaxes your tissue, reduces muscle spasms, and improves your range of motion.[27] Use your gym's hot tub or sauna once a week to help your muscles bounce back from tough workouts, or try to take a weekly soak in your bathtub at home to help heal sore muscles.
    • Add epsom salts to help decrease muscle soreness.

Part 4
Eating to Rebuild Tissue

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    Eat plenty of protein. Protein is the building block of muscle tissue.[28] But contrary to popular belief, a diet high in protein won't actually build new muscles, and could actually be detrimental to your workout and your overall health.[29]
    • You should be consuming 0.36 grams of protein for every pound of body weight you have. So, for example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should eat approximately 54 grams of protein every day.[30]
    • Eggs, lean meat, fish, beans/legumes, and tofu are all good sources of protein.
    • Protein won't build new muscles, but it will help rebuild the microtears in muscles sustained while working out.
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    Consume vitamin C. Some studies suggest that antioxidants like vitamin C may help prevent sore muscles. However, you should talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins or supplements, including vitamin C.[31]
    • In addition to citrus fruits like oranges, you can get vitamin C from berries, broccoli, green and red peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, and other leafy greens.[32]
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    Consider taking magnesium supplements. Magnesium helps your body's muscles function better while also increasing energy levels and workout endurance.[33] Because of this, magnesium may help ease muscle cramps and speed up the recovery process.
    • Always take magnesium supplements with food. Taking them on an empty stomach may cause diarrhea and upset stomach.[34]
    • In the US, it is typically recommended that adult and teenage men take between 270 and 400 milligrams each day.[35] Adult and teenage women should take between 280 and 300 milligrams each day.[36]
    • Magnesium is naturally found in roasted almonds, cashews, and peanuts, as well as rice, beans, spinach, and broccoli.[37]


  • While you may not experience muscle soreness immediately after a workout, you may notice it a day or two later. Anticipate sore muscles, especially after increasing your workout duration or intensity, and plan accordingly.


  • When stretching, it is important only to go as far as what is comfortable for you. As soon as you begin to feel any form of discomfort, stop and take it back to starting position. Stretching too deeply can result in torn ligaments. Use slow and controlled movements to prevent this from occurring.

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Categories: Injury and Accidents | Sports and Fitness